Over 24 tonnes of debris were removed from the beaches of the Great Barrier Reef through the ReefClean project during 2019, but this is only the tip of the plastic-fighting iceberg.
As we look back nostalgically on 2019, the year before any of us had heard of COVID 19 or social distancing, we remember those socially close days with volunteers patrolling our beaches to tackle marine debris. However, picking up rubbish will only ever be one part of reducing the impact of plastics in the ocean.
Today Tangaroa Blue Foundation is launching the report for the first full year of the ReefClean Project. The 5-year project brings together groups and individuals from along the length of the Great Barrier Reef to not only remove marine debris but also to prevent more debris entering the sea and impacting the iconic reef.
During 2019, ReefClean project partners regularly monitored 33 beaches, ran 49 community clean-ups and presented educational activities in schools and at community events from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait. None of this would have been possible without the contribution of more than 4,000 volunteers who were part of these actions.
“It has been inspiring to see so many people come forward to help us get a better understanding of the scale of the issue and find ways to deal with marine debris,” said Heidi Taylor, CEO of Tangaroa Blue Foundation.
“Through the launch of this report, we not only showcase the amazing contribution of so many individuals and partners, but the data and numbers provide a clearer picture of the problem, which enables us to make better decisions on how to tackle it.”
A key aspect of the ReefClean project, and all Tangaroa Blue Foundation’s work, is counting and recording all debris collected in the Australia Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database. This provides opportunities to track specific items back to the source and find ways to prevent them from being released in the future.
Natural oceanic and weather processes are also considered when tracking back to the source of the litter. An example of this would be the remote beaches of Cape York. Far from residential areas, almost 1,700 debris items were recorded for every hectare of beach. As there are very few or no people living near these beaches, we know that the debris loads washing onto shore are from overseas sources carried in by tides and storms.
In other areas, the source is clearly local. In the populated areas of the Wet Tropics in Far North Queensland, an estimated seventy percent of debris on the beaches has come from the local community, with some of their top-ranking items being cigarette butts and filters, broken glass, aluminium cans, and miscellaneous paper, labels and tickets.
“We’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in the first year of the ReefClean project, but we know there is still much we need to do together to tackle this issue.”
ReefClean is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and delivered by Tangaroa Blue Foundation in partnership with Conservation Volunteers Australia, AUSMAP, Capricornia Catchments, Eco Barge Clean Seas, OceanWatch Australia, Reef Check Australia, and South Cape York Catchments.